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Sharif victory spurs hope in Kashmir

Events slated to take place during 2013-2014 may prove to be a turning point for Jammu and Kashmir. The first event was the 11 May elections in Pakistan which have catapulted Nawaz Sharif as prime minister-designate. The second will be the Lok Sabha elections in India which will decide whether the Congress-led UPA or the BJP-led NDA will form the government. The third event will be the Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir to be held late in 2014 after Omar Abdullah completes his six-year term as chief minister. The fourth, an important but, in a way negative event, will be the US forces pullout from Afghanistan and the likelihood of the Pakistan and Afghanistan-based terror organisations intensifying their activities in Pakistan and India, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir.
 
Nawaz Sharif’s emergence as prime minister-designate is a positive development not only for Pakistan but also for India, particularly Kashmir. Soon after his party’s victory in the polls Sharif projected himself to be a dove declaring he would work for normalisation of relations with India. Indicating his likely roadmap for improving the relations with India and for finding a solution of the Kashmir problem he said the Lahore Declaration of 1999 signed by him and Atal Bihari Vajpayee during the latter’s bus journey to Lahore is a good starting point. The Declaration presumably carried a mutually agreed formula for normalising India-Pakistan relations and resolving the Kashmir issue. Musharraf, however, sabotaged the plan through his Kargil misadventure. Later, staging a coup, he established his dictatorship in Pakistan.

Sharif said that the Lahore Declaration was a good starting point for reviving the peace process. He assured the people of India that ‘we want friendship with India and will neither allow any more Kargils and Mumbai terror attacks nor use of Pakistani soil to export terror. Terrorism can only hurt both India and Pakistan.’
 
Pious intentions need to be trusted. But the object of improving the relations with India cannot be achieved unless Pakistan takes steps to remove the roadblocks which have strained the relations between the two countries. The most important step is punishment of those who had used the Pakistan soil to carry out terror acts in India. Pakistan has refused to hand over to India Lashkar-e-Taiba supremo Hafiz Muhammad Saeed who was the chief plotter of the 26 November 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai which killed 166 people. Even the US is offering $10 million for help in convicting Saeed. Sayeed lives fearless in a middle-class neighbourhood of Lahore. Pakistan has also not handed over Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon, plotters of the March 1993 Mumbai serial blasts. Trial of the 26/11 Mumbai attack main accused in Pakistan also drags on. Although Nawaz Shafir’s words are reassuring, yet India cannot forget the record of how Pakistani rulers had been betraying the promises made earlier. ‘Under the US pressure, Pervez Musharraf had also assured in 2004 that Pakistan would not allow its soil to be used to export terror. But during his regime before he had to quit in 2007, Pakistan-based terror groups continued their attacks on India and the army was not restrained from training and infiltrating militants armed groups into Jammu and Kashmir. Sharif has not wrongly stated that ‘Terrorism is a direct outcome of Musharraf’s policies.’
 
Even Musharraf and later Zardari had to publicly admit that Pakistan had trained armed terrorists for operating in India and Kashmir. Nawaz Sharif’s government will now have to ensure that the ISI or its rogue elements are stopped to sponsor killings in India.
 
The second important event of 2014 will be the Lok Sabha elections. Their outcome may not negatively impact the Kashmir issue. Irrespective of whoever wins, New Delhi’s approach on Kashmir and Pakistan is likely to be, by an large, based on national consensus and not partisan-centric.
 
Barring the 2008 and 2010 mass protests and the sporadic killings, the situation in J&K has, by and large, been normal and peaceful. What is more significant is the people’s faith in democracy and its institutions as displayed by their overwhelmingly voting, despite the militants threats, in the 2008 Assembly and later in panchayat elections.
 
Notwithstanding the hopeful perception about the developments in the state what is worrying will be the consequences of the Afghanistan’s post-US pullout situation. After the Soviets withdrawal in the late eighties and the consequent Talibans takeover in Afghanistan with the help of CIA and ISI, the jihadis had turned their attention to Punjab and J&K which witnessed a spurt in the terrorist activities.
 
Going by the past experience, the possibility of the Pakistani Taliban and the terrorist groups stepping up their violent actions in Pakistan and India, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir cannot be ruled out. To meet the perceived danger, both the countries will need to formulate a joint strategy to counter terrorists. Nawaz Sharif has stressed the need for India and Pakistan to cooperate for fighting the terror menace threatening the two countries. Pakistan army’s views published in the media a few months ago that terror and not India was Pakistan’s number one enemy should be reassuring for the two neighbours.
 
Optimism is the elixir of life. Will the foregoing analysis of the situation prove to be true and make the two countries jointly fight terror bodies? One should hope so. IPA
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